One of the off-season series we wanted to publish was a 'Top Moments' collection from the memorable 2012 season. There were certainly enough moments to talk about and any self-respecting blog would be a fool not to add them to the conversation.
We put together a list but found it a little boring just to have one person chime in on the biggest moments, so we moved this series in to an informal discussion among the OFD staff. Feel free to chime in with your own thoughts in the comment section.
Let's see where this takes us.
George Atkinson's 56-yard touchdown run
Down & Distance: Irish ball, 1st & 10 at the ND 44
Score: 7-0 Notre Dame
The Situation: On the preceding series the Irish stopped Navy on a 4th and 1 play at the Notre Dame 30-yard line. Three straight rushing plays by the Irish brought the ball near the 40-yard line when George Atkinson picked up his third carry of the game and wasted no time taking it to the house.
Eric: I forgot that Riddick scored our first touchdown in this game. For some reason I thought this GA3 run was the ice breaker on the season. Did we have a better touchdown celebration than this all season? I like the anger and swag here. Also, a nicely timed 'jump celebration' with Theo after the score. Well executed.
Jim: Love the vision on the cutback. Hopefully that is something we see more of over the next few years from GAIII--one cut and get up field. Let's be honest here--it isn't often you see a guy run 56 yards UNTOUCHED by the defense.
Eric: It really was the perfect kind of run for Atkinson, wasn't it? Do you think that run and his overall performance (9 carries, 99 yards, 2 TD) kind of got our hopes up too much? Are we back to the point where we shouldn't be getting too excited about a young back torching Navy?
Jim: I think GAIII is still learning how to be an effective RB at the college level. This is not a trivial task for someone who gets limited snaps. Also, he is the quintessential home run threat--and as such, you have to take the long TD runs with the negative yardage plays.
alstein: In retrospect, this run and the Tuitt fumble return (and this game in general) highlighted the transition from being a talented team but not physically imposing nor demonstrably faster than anyone to all of a sudden a freakin' athletic team that can pound people, too. I know it's just Navy, but this is, to me, the direction of the program right now. The GA3 and Stephon Tuitt physical abilities at more and more positions on the field at all times. Atkinson brought a lot of excitement with this play, not just about himself, but as a microcosm for our team finally getting to that level as well. /retroactively overrating a play against Navy.
Whiskey: I agree with Adam completely on the athleticism. The first thing that I thought was "That's the 3rd string tailback!" In terms of talent and athleticism the program has come a very long way in the last few years. We are close.
CW: I was lucky enough to be sitting in the endzone behind the offense on this play. When GA3 started the run right, my friend Matt whined - with the tone of voice generally reserved for teenage girls telling their dad to stop being so annoying - for GA3 "to get upfield." Uh, he did. The funny thing is that when we saw that replay at dinner, and as you can see above, there isn't much hesitation in Atkinson's run. One cut, gone. I also absolutely love Verne's call on this: "This is a footrace, and I think George Atkinson will win it easily." And I agree with E: Great celebration.
Whiskey: When did the backs transition from the jump celebration to the one where they pull up short and bow? I suppose we'll get to that in this series eventually but that celebration routine became my favorite of 2012.
Eric: It was nice to play Navy to begin the season. I kind of wish that turned into a tradition. I wouldn't even mind opening the season on the "road" in a big NFL stadium either if it meant getting this triple option team out of the way in week one. Also, this was a fun game to watch for a lot of reasons. We were the first game of the first Saturday of action, no distractions, and a big win to start the year. Is going back to Ireland in 4 or 5 years too soon though? I'm kind of leaning toward yes.
Fish: Every four or five years would be awesome, I think. Maybe six. It seems to have been a great experience for all involved. Did it affect Notre Dame's play against Purdue the following week? Hard to say. Kicking off the season that way was pretty special, though.
4pointshooter: If anything this game and trip gave us all an excuse to start drinking before the sun came up and I'm sure we can all get behind that notion every few years
Burgs: This was the play where we saw the difference between playing Tommy Rees at quarterback and playing Everett Golson. The backside linebacker had to respect Golson's ability to pull the ball and run and hesitated ever so slightly. He was late getting to Atkinson and a 5 or 6 yard gain turned into a 56 yard touchdown.
Eric: Yup, that hesitation jumped out to me watching it live. Golson really didn't run at all in this game but you could tell Navy was really worried about his legs. EG scrambled close to a 1st down on the 1st drive, but a penalty nullified that scamper. He didn't run the ball the rest of the game.
Mouth: This run beautifully showcased the sweetness of the Irish flag shoes. I would definitely buy a pair if they made a casual, low-top, non-cleat version.
Eric: Would these satisfy your tastes, Mouth?
Jim: Why did anyone have to bring up sport fashion? You know Eric will now treat us to an 8,000 word manifesto on the choice of colors (or perhaps colours) and overall design implemented.
Fish: Undoubtedly. All the same, it's really hard to watch clips from the Navy game and not be struck by how awesome the setting was - Aviva Stadium really made for a spectacular setting to kick off the season. So much light. Such gold helmets. Notre Dame photographer Matt Cashore said it was his favorite spot to photograph an athletic event ever. Ever.
Eric: The photos from that game were great indeed. It was also the debut of our new old gold pants which I think look amazing. See, that was only about 30 words! And no, I don't spell like a Canadian.
Stephon Tuitt's 77-yard fumble return for TD
Down & Distance: Navy ball, 2nd & 1 at the ND 16
Score: 20-0 Notre Dame
The Situation: For the first time in the game the momentum was starting to turn in Navy's favor. After the Irish scored points on their first 3 drives, a late throw from Golson to Eifert was picked off at the Navy 15-yard line. The Middies then strung together a 12-play drive that moved the ball inside the Irish red zone---completely flipping the field position. A 9-yard pass was completed on 1st down and it was looking like Navy would make it a respectable halftime score if they punched the ball in for a touchdown. Then a 305-pound man got on the loose.
Eric: Knee braces, just holding on for dear life.
Whiskey: As Tuitt raced down the field I just kept thinking how completely unnatural it is for a man that big to be running that fast. The fact that none of the Navy backs were able to chase him down pretty much tells you everything that you need to know.
Fish: You've got to admire the Navy quarterback's jumping to his feet to chase our defensive lineman eighty yards after getting hurled to the ground like a rag doll by Ishaq there. Still: can't catch him.
Eric: Something seemed weird about the QB's reaction. No doubt he was thrown to the ground with some force, but it seemed like he knew he was fumbling the ball and tried to be all dramatic and sell an incomplete pass. Like his instant reaction was 'Oh crap, I fumbled the ball...wait I'll make my fall real dramatic and they might buy it as a fumble." Isn't this just one of the most awkward looking tackles you'll ever see? He seems to pirouette by himself and stick his head up in the air and Ishaq is barely touching him. I think I heard an audible feminine cry too.
4pointshooter: This also may have been the first time we saw Ishaq Williams scratch the surface of his potential. I thought it was a key moment to see Williams make a positive play like that in the first game of the year. Of the three 5 star recruits (Williams, Tuitt, Lynch) from that class, one of whom is no longer with ND, Williams was rated higher on most services but fans probably feel that they haven't seen nearly enough from the LB yet. I feel like of all the players on the defensive side of the football, #11 most badly needs to take the next step and become an every down impact player like we all know he can be.
Eric: Ishaq should have sat out his freshman year. He's going to be a junior and still not starting. Although you know, 28 tackles, 4.5 for loss, and 1 forced fumble isn't terrible production for essentially one year of playing backup minutes. It's not what we expected from a 5-star but I feel like I'm in a good spot with him where I've lowered my expectations while simultaneously thinking he improved a lot last year and that he will be an important part of the defense next season. Maybe I'm comparing him to the likes of Steve Filer who did next to nothing but I'm okay with Ishaq not being an All-American yet still getting better over the next two years.
Whiskey: Interesting that this turned into an Ishaq discussion. I suspect 11 will have a pretty good season this year. But not as good as Tuitt! Man he's a beast.
Eric: Tuitt didn't get the single-season Irish record for sacks, right? He was on pace and got close but I think Tuck's record survived. Lord, we beg you for two more years of Tuitt.
Jim: You guys need to lay off of Ishaq. Easily the most improved through the season, and I predict he will be a household name by the end of the 2013 season. The staff used him in a number of roles--including DE in a 3 or 4 man front or dropping into coverage. Remember, he played HS Football in NYC--not really known for its development of talent. If he played in CA, FL or TX, he would be much further along in his development.
On Tuitt: this play basically iced the game and was probably a minimum 10 point swing, if not 14. Not that Navy was going to give ND that much trouble, but a TD there plus the 2nd half kickoff could have made things much more interesting. 300 lb defensive linemen shouldn't be able to move like that. Also, bonus points for the celebration. Especially enjoy Jamoris Slaughter getting slap happy on top of the pile.
Eric: Wait, does that mean you're laying on Ishaq there, Jim?? Did I make it weird? I made it weird.
Burgs: Hey, look! A fumble returned for a touchdown that didn't crush my soul!
Mouth: Seemed like that was a little bit athletic to me.